You meet someone at a bar, you flirt, and the sexual chemistry is obvious. You invite them back to your place. There’s lots of making out and rubbing. Tops come off, then bottoms do, too. You undo your belt. “Do you have a condom?” Yes, you do. But as you awkwardly fumble to unroll the condom, your erection wanes. In this situation, many of us are quick to blame the prophylactic for our wounded pride. “Condoms! They’re total boner killers,” we complain to our buddies (of the usual and fuck variety). “I hate using them. It feels like I’m fucking with a dick full of Novocaine,” my friend Derek told me.
Yeah, that sounds about right. There are few experiences more disappointing than trying to have sex when your penis is limp. And often it seems like it’s the condom’s fault.
But according to new research published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, if your dick goes limp before or during sex, the condom isn’t at fault. You are.
The 2015 study asked 479 young, heterosexual men (aged 18–24 years) to fill-out surveys for 90 days about their erections and any problems they had with or without condoms during sex. The data — according to Robin Milhausen, the study’s co-author and a sexologist and researcher at Indiana University’s Kinsey Institute — are self-evident: “Approximately, 60 percent of young men had some sort of difficulty” maintaining an erection during sex, she explains, including everything from losing it while applying the condom (13.8 percent), during penetration (5.7 percent) or both (32.2 percent).
That’s a lot of limp dicks. Why are we losing our boners?
Oftentimes, it’s the drinking and smoking that goes hand-in-hand with casual sex. But Milhausen cautions that there is a more important culprit than boner-killing drugs and whiskey dick.
“Another factor has to do with general worry about an erection,” Milhausen explains. “We definitely know that if you go into sex thinking: Is my erection going to last? I’m worried about this. That can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. A man’s own cognition, worries and concerns can be his own worst enemy.”
Thus, it’s not the condom that kills your erection — it’s your mind. Milhausen references two national studies (one from Canada and one from the U.S.) that asked large samples of men how much they enjoyed their last sexual encounter and whether or not they used a condom. “What we found in both studies is that condom-protected sex was not rated as less pleasurable as unprotected sex,” Milhausen says.
This finding isn’t exactly surprising: with or without a condom, men like sex. The trouble is men don’t seem to remember that, which is why so many of us try to avoid using condoms.
But when men don’t wear condoms it puts an unfair burden on their partners to protect their own health. “I find the whole process of trying to get a guy to wear a condom really demeaning,” my friend Chloe, a 30-year-old living in New Zealand, explains. In the past this has meant sleeping with guys without a condom, only to spend “two weeks stressed about my sexual health before I can go and get tested at Family Planning.”
Milhausen thinks the cure for “condom avoidance” is to confront it head-on. “Men often don’t practice using condoms. They don’t put them on until they’re in the middle of a high-pressure situation. Then, they want to be good to go. They want to look like they’re skilled and know what they’re doing, so they kinda rush through it.” At the Kinsey Institute, they’ve developed a strategy called the Men’s Homework and Intervention Strategy to teach men condom skills. “We have men practice putting on condoms, on their own, in a low-pressure environment.”
Finding a favorite condom is also key, according to Milhausen. She cited research that asked guys to masturbate while wearing different types of condoms and rate them in terms of sensation. Men typically found a condom that worked well for them, which means they’re more likely to use it. “Condom technology has changed a lot,” Milhausen points out, citing new model Pure Ecstasy by TROJAN. “New condoms have a different shape than other condoms—tighter at the base, and wider along the shaft. Which is really, really amazing because that means the condom will move on the penis,” instead of constricting it.
Sex educators also recommend you make condoms part of your foreplay, by applying them with one’s mouth, for example. Milhausen says that straight men in her study often report that “they’d really like it if their female partner was involved, because that also helps with his erection. If she’s touching his penis, stroking it, using lubricant—that’s erotic and hot and bodes well for the erection staying throughout the sexual encounter.” Plus, these new positive associations will replace and counteract negative past experiences with condoms.
They say a poor craftsman blames his tools. This is just as true with condoms and sex. If you want a stronger, stiffer, longer-lasting erection: confront your doubts, find a better condom, learn how to put it on and, as Milhausen advises, “focus on those pleasurable sensations.”
You have two heads. Use the right one when you’re naked. And your erections worries may become a thing of the past.
Zaron Burnett III is an American writer, who lives in Los Angeles. Find him on Twitter: @Zaron3.